Sex Ed

Are Sex Researchers More Sexually Active Than Everyone Else?

July 19, 2017 by Justin Lehmiller

When you study sex for a living, people have a tendency to think that you really love sex—and that you must be having it all the time, too! In other words, people often assume that you’re doing “mesearch” instead of research.

But is that really the case? Are sex researchers any more sexually active than the rest of the population? Let’s take a look at the data.

A 2013 study published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy explored the sexual attitudes and behaviors of 252 “sexuality professionals” (defined broadly, so as to include sexuality researchers, educators, counselors, and therapists) [1]. All participants were attending an international sex research conference and were asked to complete a survey in which, among other things, they were asked about their reasons for entering this line of work, as well as their own recent experiences with casual sex (unfortunately, this survey only inquired about experiences with casual sex, so that’s the only sexual behavior these data can speak to).

The three most commonly cited reasons for becoming a sexuality professional were “the field is interesting” (94% said this), there is still “a lot left to learn about sexuality” (84% said this), and the desire to “improve sexual health” (79% said this). As you can see, overwhelmingly, people’s motivations for entering the field don’t have anything to do with their own sex lives.

In terms of sexual behavior, 23% of participants reported having engaged in penetrative sex with a casual partner during the last two years. For comparison purposes, 2010-2012 data from the General Social Survey or GSS (a nationally representative survey of Americans) indicates that 38% of adults reported having had casual sex in the last year [2]. This suggests that, at least when it comes to casual sex, sexuality professionals aren’t doing it more than anyone else. In fact, if anything, they seem to be doing it less.

Likewise, when asked whether they had consistently used a condom during casual sex over the last two years, 79% reported having done so. By contrast, the 2009 wave of the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior found that, depending on which gender and age group you look at, adults reported using a condom with their most recent casual sex partner between 20-58% of the time [3]. This suggests that sexuality professionals aren’t perfect when it comes to practicing what they preach regarding condom use, but it would appear that they’re having safe sex more often than the rest of the population.

One final point worth noting is that sexuality professionals were also asked to rate how accepting they were of casual sex as part of this survey. And while, overall, they reported accepting attitudes toward casual sex, they didn’t appear to be having a lot of it (at least not compared to the GSS numbers). Thus, while sexuality professionals may have greater acceptance when it comes to various sexual behaviors, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re engaging in those behaviors with greater frequency.

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[1] Luria, M., Byers, E. S., Voyer, S. D., & Mock, M. (2013). Motivations and sexual attitudes, experiences, and behavior of sexuality professionals. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 39(2), 112-131.

[2] Twenge, J. M., Sherman, R. A., & Wells, B. E. (2015). Changes in American adults’ sexual behavior and attitudes, 1972–2012. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 44(8), 2273-2285.

[3] Reece, M., Herbenick, D., Schick, V., Sanders, S. A., Dodge, B., & Fortenberry, J. D. (2010). Condom use rates in a national probability sample of males and females ages 14 to 94 in the United States. The journal of sexual medicine, 7(s5), 266-276.

Image Source: 123RF/Piotr Marcinski

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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